Saturday, 21 September 2013

Scrapping Bedroom Tax announcement result of Labour Town Hall pressure

Ed Miliband's announcement that an incoming Labour government will scrap the hated Bedroom Tax is welcome - Camden Labour was part of coalition of Labour Town Halls and Groups up and down the country who have been seen the impact of this dumb Coalition policy which hits people when they are down.

Labour councillors, Camden included, pressed for this with Shadow Ministers at a Bedroom Tax Labour councils summit in Manchester (June) and Birmingham (September).

This week scores of Labour leaders wrote to Ed Miliband in the most concerted show of Labour local government advocacy we have seen in over a generation:
We know that rightly you want to make sure that our Party has a strong reputation for financial responsibility. We all know that the Government has never made a proper financial analysis about the hidden costs of bedroom tax. Forcing people to move from a socially owned property to a privately owned property costs more in housing benefit. Chasing people for small debts can cost a lot more than it brings in. Evicting people for not paying rent and rehousing them is very expensive. Some councils and housing associations are no longer able to let out three bedroom properties and this is hurting our rental income and our ability to finance more property building. 
For us the finances are not the main issue. This is an argument about principles, the true costs of the bedroom tax are human and are far worse. 
We know that that the Bedroom Tax is disproportionately hitting disabled people, 420,000 people who need space for carers, washing space and equipment are being affected by it. People are getting into arrears which is causing them anguish. They are forced to move out of their neighbourhoods and away from their support base because there is a shortage of one bedroom properties - a situation that has built up because councils listened to governments of all parties and built properties big enough for families. We know that the Government gave local authorities discretionary housing payments but that money only covers £1 in every £7 cut from the benefit changes and in many councils it has already run out. We know that many of our residents are not getting in to arrears yet because they are turning to pay day leaders and we know what the impact of that will be. The Bedroom Tax is forcing people who cannot work out of their homes and in to debt. The Bedroom Tax hits the most vulnerable in our society and it hits them hard. We cannot have a One Nation Britain while Bedroom Tax exists.
The full impact of the Bedroom Tax and other welfare changes can be found here but here's a summary of why it matters in Camden:

Hits the people when they are down

Of Camden council tenants 79% are under-occupying by 1 bedroom, 21% by 2 or more bedrooms.  But it's clearly not as simple as saying to people that they should downsize if they are in a flat with ‘spare’ rooms - there clearly aren't the properties on the market to do that: if only third of households moved, Camden would need an extra 308 one bedroom properties; 153 two beds; 36 three beds and 7 four beds to come onto the market immediately.

Ending the Bedroom Tax matters in Camden, because the measure hits the poorest the hardest and gives them little option but to become poorer still.

Here are some stats:
  • 1826 council and RSL tenant households have been affected. Average loss in benefit is £21.24/week - not enough to push people into eviction territory for a while, but more than enough to make poor families poorer.
  • 66% of children in households impacted by the Bedroom Tax are on free school meals.
  • 37% of children in households impacted by the Bedroom Tax have special educational needs.
  • No dog-whistle on large immigrant families:  the largest identified grouping impacted are "white British or White Other" - white British children are over-represented.
Pushes people further into debt
We can already see the impact in Camden - pushing struggling families further into debt.
  • 1,333 'Bedroom Tax' households are in arrears, with an average of £542.82.  Those in arrears have gone up by +9% since January.    
  • The arrears rate for Bedroom Tax-affected households is in turn higher than for all Housing Benefit claimants. This group was already struggling before the Bedroom Tax took effect, suggesting that these households already have difficulties managing budgets (e.g. low paid work, disability etc) which will be exacerbated by the Bedroom Tax.
Camden Labour's approach to helping people is set out here.  Fundamentally we need to go further - the Bedroom Tax debate has highlighted the struggles of his particular group and the poverty trap or low or now pay.   We now have the needed space to develop active help to lift these households out of poverty benefits and into work.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

NW6 school facts about West End Lane

West End Lane site
These are former offices.  Camden Council owns the freehold of this site and has been in discussion with Travis Perkins since at least 2009, going back to the previous administration, about its future sale.

Travis Perkins previously made an offer for the site but this was rejected and since July 6 July 2013 the site has been marketed for sale as part of the Council’s accommodation strategy.  Funds raised from the sale will go towards meeting the council’s capital programme, specifically the accommodation strategy as agreed by this and the previous Tory-Lib Dem administration..

There isn’t a set  ‘asking price’ as such as it a development site which is subject to a bidding process.

While the building is empty, the Council is meeting the costs of the business rates, security and associated running costs, for example electricity, but we have been discussing the possibility of the building being used for ‘pop-up’ uses while it is empty.

Ultimately the site could be a new development with new employment space and a substantial number of affordable homes.

Can it be turned into a school?
School campaigners are asking the council to 'gift' or sell at low value this public asset to create a secondary school in NW6.

The education department have advised that the site is not appropriate for a primary school and seem sceptical whether it could be converted for a secondary, due to size constraints.

Central government, not the council funds secondary builds, so any bid for a school on this site would have to be funded by Whitehall, and the costs would be very high - up to £30m - so campaigners need to make their case to the Department for Education rather than the council.     

But even if Whitehall didn't fund new secondaries, the council just does not have the funds to create a new secondary as capital budgets for schools have been slashed by the government: the council will not divert funds from school repairs for a school here.  

In any case, an extra school would have to demonstrate real need, rather than preference, otherwise it would destabilise existing schools, and school governors from across Camden have very strong views about this.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

How the Government slipped more council cuts under the radar

In June the Chancellor announced that local councils would see a further 10% cut to their budgets from 2015.  This would have meant a cut of £17.5 million in the overall settlement in 2015/16.  

However, a 'technical consultation' on how the government proposes to allocate the reductions between councils released at the end of July indicates an even worse position for Camden.  

The consultation indicates that Camden will face cuts in its Revenue Support Grant of £28m in 2015/16 – a reduction in the grant of 29%.

The additional cut outlined by the Department for Communities and Local Government would increase Camden’s forecast deficit for 2015/16 to £30m and push forward the need to deliver savings even faster than before.  

Government have not just moved the goalposts, they have moved the stadium.  

The additional cut alone, slipped under the radar by the government, is the equivalent to an increase in Council Tax of between 10% and 11%.

The overall effect of the 2015/16 cut is the equivalent of £311 on band D Council Tax – a notional rise of 30%.  The sets the gap we have to meet from 2015-18 at £60-£70m on top of the £83.5m we have already cut.  

Once again government are front loading their cuts, and targeting more deprived areas, meaning that we will be forced to balance our budgets faster.  

After the previous cuts we have had to make to balance our budget, it is harder to deliver further savings without damaging services that are valued by residents.



We will now need to go back and review our forecasting to ensure that we can start to prepare.  

Camden council passes Zero Hours motion

Zero hours motion passed by Camden's Full Council last night:  (Labour: For; Lib Dems For; Conservatives Abstained).

This Council recognises that: 
Zero hours contracts cause great uncertainty and instability in many employees’ lives – the practice of having employees turn up to work with no guaranteed hours, pay or employment rights is reminiscent of Victorian times, and must end; 
Camden strives to be an excellent employer and has been accredited by the Living Wage Foundation;
Camden Council’s diverse workforce has many needs including being able to work flexibly without using zero hours contracts – full time jobs are now advertised as suitable for flexible working; 
Where the Council uses sessional work, hours and length of contract are agreed upfront and in full discussion with staff with all other contractual rights retained; 
The use of zero-hours contracts in the adult social care sector means the Council must continue to work with other London councils to stamp out this practice and put pressure on Government to outlaw their use. 
Camden Council calls on the government to ban their use in the care industry and conduct an immediate review of their use elsewhere; 
And will take a lead in working with other London Boroughs to try stamp out their use in Local Government contracts.

Camden has also launched a petition calling for national reform on this - please sign here.

On the Union link - Labour First submission

The Labour First submission makes strong points, which I agree with, about the union link and parliamentary selections. Primaries (open or closed) need more investigation.  Here it is in full:


Labour First

Initial response to Ed Miliband’s speech on building a better Labour Party


Introduction


Labour First believes that the affiliated trade unions are an integral part of our Party.


We welcome Ed Miliband’s bold statement that he wants ““to change the way individual Trade Unionists are affiliated to the Labour Party….. Individual Trade Union members should choose to join Labour through the affiliation fee, not be automatically affiliated”.


We want to take forward this aspiration in a way that further integrates individual trade unionists into Labour Party activity so that our activist and candidate base better reflects the composition of the electorate, whilst preserving the institutional relationship between Labour and its affiliates, which has been a source of organisational and financial stability.


1) The conduct of parliamentary selections to ensure fairness and transparency


• We support the basic principle that parliamentary candidates should be selected by OMOV, thus ensuring members have democratic control over the picking of the candidates they will campaign for.

• It should not be possible to recruit members with voting rights in a selection, and hence stack a selection, once a vacancy has been formally announced (in the case of a sitting MP announcing their retirement) or for a period of 12 months before the process starts, whichever is the longer period taking precedence. Members can still join during this period but should not be able to take part in the process.
• Everyone who joins the Labour Party as an individual member should complete and sign a full application form. They should be on the electoral register and all contacts must be through that address. If another person is to pay their membership, the member must sign a form agreeing to this. These won't eliminate fraud and vote buying, but should reduce it substantially. (This should be done not just to address the sort of issues arising from Falkirk, but the reasons why other CLPs are in special measures).
• The current process is too long, which adds to its expense for candidates and acts as a deterrent to some participants, particularly those with jobs outside politics, or caring commitments. It means that Labour prospective candidates are usually only able to pursue one selection in any cycle whereas other parties’ shorter processes allow candidates several tries at different seats. We would propose the entire process could be run in a maximum of 4 weeks from opening nominations to final hustings.
• We want to retain the basic shape of the current process: nominations by branches and affiliates, shortlisting and then an OMOV hustings, but reduce the time between each of these events.
• We would retain the NEC’s powers to shortlist in by-elections and in very late selections, which given we now have fixed-term parliaments can be defined more tightly than in 2010 as any selection starting after 1 March 2015.
• There should be a spending limit of £200 plus 5p per member, with a return of expenses provided to the procedures secretary. Doorstep, email and phone contact with members should not be limited but members should be able to opt out of further calls or emails relating from a candidate. The invitation to the hustings meeting or ballot papers should include 1 A4 leaflet from each candidate.
• The recent selection of MEP candidates was too long (4 weeks voting would have been sufficient), involved excessive spending (with one candidate reporting an £18,000 donation) so needs tighter spending limits, and would have benefited from a more obvious way for members to opt out of receiving emails from candidates. In every region members should have been presented with a shortlist to rank that was longer than the number of candidates to be selected. Prior to shortlisting by regional boards CLPs and regional affiliates should have had nomination rights. Any candidate approved as fit to stand by the panel should be able to seek nominations, and anyone who achieves a threshold (e.g. 5 CLP nominations) should go forward to the OMOV ballot to be ranked.

2) The development of a new relationship between the Labour Party and individual members of our affiliate organisations


The union link works. It gives a voice in Labour's policy making to millions of ordinary working class voters whose concerns are grounded in the realities and bread and butter issues of the workplace. It means that Labour's leaders are elected by a large, representative sample of those who actually vote for the Party.


The link gives trade unionists not just individual voices in the Labour Party but collective voices through their unions, an expression of our collectivist rather than individualist values as a party.


Across the world the most successful progressive parties are the ones with deep ties with the trade union movement.


The link needs strengthening at a local level with far more trade unionists being encouraged to both join the Party as individual members and become union delegates to their constituency parties. CLPs want more union delegates to attend their meetings, not just paper affiliations.


The link provides a constant conveyer belt from union activists of recruits to public office - councillors and MPs - virtually the only way in which ordinary working class people get to hold public office - if it didn't exist the PLP would be even more dominated by lawyers and other professionals and career politicians. Of course this is not to say that everyone supported in a selection by a union is working class.


In policy terms it is difficult to see how anyone could think that the Warwick Agreement reached with the affiliated unions was not a positive input to Labour's 2005 and 2010 Manifestoes, including important policies on workers' rights that might otherwise have not been committed to.


When the Labour Party hits hard times, the unions keep it going. When it tried to self destruct in the 1930s, '50s and '80s the unions were the voice of sanity and moderation.


We owe our existence as a party to the decision of the unions to set up the LRC with the Fabians and ILP, and to the work of individual trade unionists in setting up a CLP organisation on the ground.


Without the unions we are just A.N.Other centre-left political party like the Lib Dems or the SDP - rootless, not embedded in the communities we represent, and liable to be blown away by the first political gale just like the Liberals were in the early years of the century and the SDP were at the end of the '80s.


• We support the proposal that only those members of affiliates who consciously opt-in to a relationship with the Labour Party should be considered as affiliated members. It is only these opted-in members who should receive voting rights in Labour Party leadership and deputy leadership elections.

• The weighting accorded to the various affiliates within their sections of the Electoral College, Annual and Regional conferences and elections for the NEC and NPF should accordingly be based solely on the number of their members who opt-in, not on their total membership. This will incentivise each affiliate to promote opting-in.
• We do not propose any change to the collective weight accorded to affiliates in either the Electoral College or Annual or Regional conferences as we think these balances are a durable constitutional reflection of the balance between the different political stakeholders in the Party. For the same reason we would not support reducing the MPs’ and MEPs’ share of the Electoral College. Anyone elected as Labour Leader should be able to demonstrate they have a credible level of support from their colleagues in Parliament, from our affiliates and from individual members.
• However, should the number of members of affiliates who opt-in ever fall below the number of individual members of the Party we would propose that the weighting between affiliates and CLPs should move from 1:1 to a ratio based on the ratio between individual and affiliated members. For example, if there were 200,000 individual members and 200,000 or more affiliated members the current equal weightings in the Electoral College and at Annual Conference would apply. But if there were 300,000 individual members and 200,000 affiliated members the Annual Conference weighting would move to 60% CLPs, 40% affiliates, and the Electoral College to 33% MPs and MEPs, 40% CLPs, 27% affiliates.
• The same principles should apply within each Region to weighting at regional conferences i.e. affiliates affiliate to the region based on the real number of opted-in members in that region, and if the total of all of these affiliated members falls below the number of individual Labour Party members in the region, the balance of votes at regional conference moves from 50% CLPs:50% affiliates to a ratio based on the ratio between individual and affiliated members in that region.
• This mechanism would incentivise affiliates as a whole to promote opting-in.
• The annual fee charged to affiliated members is currently only £3, which is rather derisory given the voting rights accorded. We need to consider raising the fee that affiliates pay per affiliated member to a more realistic figure.
• The Labour Party at national, regional and CLP level will need to have access to the contact lists of opt-in affiliated members of each affiliate in order to:
o Establish that affiliation levels are based on the real number of opt-in members
o Prevent entryism by vetting and barring any applications to opt-in from people who there is evidence are supporters of other political parties or proscribed organisations
o Contact affiliated members to encourage them to become individual members of the Labour Party
o Involve affiliated members in campaigning for elections and on issues, and in the wider political, social and cultural life of the Labour Party
o Encourage affiliated members to vote in local and national elections
• For this reason, in order to be constitutionally valid, the opt-in form presented to members of affiliates will need to include their consent to their membership data being provided to the Labour Party.
• Affiliated members would continue to have their current constitutional rights plus the greater level of involvement in the campaigning, political, social and cultural life of the Labour Party inherent in the Labour Party having full access to their membership details.
• However, all other constitutional rights over selecting candidates and running for office would remain the preserve of full individual members.
• Affiliated members cannot be given identical rights to full individual members as there would then be no incentive for members of affiliates to pay full rate membership.
• The Labour Party would actively promote to affiliated members the right to become full individual members of the Party, with the right to participate in selections, hold office etc, for an additional payment to bring them from the affiliation fee paid by their union to the minimum rate of individual membership (currently £21.50).
• We would like to see the membership fee for all affiliated members, unwaged members and members on less than the national average salary reduced to £15 to equalise it with the rate previously offered to members of affiliates and to enable easier recruitment in working class communities so that our membership more represents our voters.
• In order to prevent recruitment exercises among affiliated members (or anyone else) motivated solely by the desire to stack the membership of a ward or constituency prior to a selection, we would recommend a one year freeze date for all selections (local government and parliamentary), so that everyone who is eligible to vote in a selection has proven they have a long-term rather than selection-motivated reason for joining.
• The process for trigger ballots for sitting MPs would continue to include votes for locally affiliated branches of affiliates as well as party branches, as this provides an essential element of stability without which some MPs would be constantly distracted by sectarian de-selection attempts.
• The current balance on the NEC between CLP and Trade Union representatives is lop-sided (6 vs 12) and the small size of the CLP section means it is difficult to achieve BAME representation or regional balance, with a disproportionate number of CLP reps from London due to its large membership.
• We would propose an NEC equally balanced like the Electoral College, with 12 representatives of affiliates (11 for the unions and 1 for the socialist societies), 12 for CLPs (with representatives elected by OMOV by pairs of regions, with a second rep for London due to its large membership, in order to ensure gender balance, i.e. 2 reps for London; 2 reps for Eastern and South East; 2 reps for South West and Wales; 2 reps for East Midlands and West Midlands; 2 reps for North West and Yorkshire & Humberside; 2 reps for North, Scotland and Northern Ireland ) , and 12 for elected members and other interests (Leader, Deputy Leader, Treasurer, Youth Rep, BAME Labour Rep, EPLP Leader, 2 Councillors, 2 backbench MPs or MEPs and 2 frontbench appointees).
• The Treasurer should be elected by the same Electoral College process as the Leader and Deputy Leader to reflect their role as a senior office holder representing the whole Party and all three groups of stakeholders in it.
• We would not change the current composition of the National Policy Forum except in so far as the above changes affect it.
• We want CLPs to continue to have the right accorded to them by Refounding Labour to choose whether to have an All Member Meeting model or a General Meeting with a delegate structure. The former makes sense in smaller CLPs but the latter remains a useful and inherently stable model where there are many local affiliates to be represented, a very large membership (making all member meetings impractical) or an imbalance in activist numbers between communities and branches in the CLP which might lead to under-representation of some groups in the CLP at an all member meeting.

3) The use of primaries in the selection of Labour candidate for London Mayor and in other circumstances


Our concerns about primaries are based on the lack of evidence of any public demand for such a process, as shown by the turnout of only 20,019 in the Tory primary that selected Boris Johnson in 2008, out of over a million people who went on to vote for him in the election itself. There is even less appetite for constitutional innovations like this in the Midlands and North than in London.


The premise for it the London primary is a myth that a primary might have in itself produced a different outcome in the 2010 Labour selection, and that with a different candidate we might have won. The second part is arguable, we will never know. But any serious observer of London politics would be able to tell you that Ken Livingstone would have won that selection whether through the 50-50 CLPs and affiliates OMOV Electoral College actually used or a primary.


Primaries should be rejected for a number of reasons:

• They are bad for Labour’s internal democracy, diluting members’ say in choosing candidates. This is at a time when members want more say in selections, not less.
• In the London case a primary weakens the union link as the affiliates currently have 50% of the vote (cast based on aggregating One Member One Vote ballots of ordinary union members).
• Primaries cost an immense amount to run and involve a vast amount of organisational effort. Like it or not we are not cash or resource rich as a party and should spent both on campaigning, not on a gimmicky way of picking candidates. You can’t run a primary on the cheap without the risk of electoral fraud or complaints of too few polling stations. Our guesstimate based on what it cost in constituencies where the Tories held them is that a  London primary would cost about £3 million to run in a fully democratic, transparent way. We simply don’t have a spare £3 million, and if we were going to charge people to vote as in France, turnout won’t be good and we might as well register them as members and stop pretending it is a primary.
• Campaigning to win a London-wide primary with potentially millions of voters would be beyond the resources of any potential candidate without big money or a huge media profile. You might as well give the Evening Standard 100% of the Electoral College as they will be able to make or break candidates, or just state “only celebs need apply”. Our calculation is that a proper campaign in a primary would cost about £750,000 per candidate!
• As stated above, there is no evidence of public demand for a primary. We will be doubling the number of times we ask people to vote, in an era of declining turnout. The primary will have far less than the 38% turnout in the actual 2012 Mayoral election. It would therefore be vulnerable to differential turnout by particular communities or campaigns which might saddle us with an unelectable candidate.
• In the US primaries are administered by the state governments, ensuring minimum standards regarding the conduct of the poll, and the states also include a party affiliation question in voter registration, so that “closed primaries” for your own party’s supporters only can be run. Neither facility is available in the UK and both would involve unpopular public subsidy of Labour’s internal democracy.
• The rise of the Tea Party shows how in a primary system a well-organised, well-funded and hyper-energised extremist grouping can foist its candidates on a more mainstream host party. The same thing happened when the Democrat left ousted Joe Lieberman as incumbent Senate candidate in Connecticut.

We should focus on recruiting members and supporters to the Labour Party, so it becomes larger, better funded and more representative of the public. We should also spend time identifying and encouraging our strongest possible candidates to run for Mayor, not tinkering with the selection process.  We ought to reject the idea of importing a US organisational model that was developed for specific US reasons.


Without resiling from this critique and our long-standing opposition to primaries, we accept that there may now be an experimental primary election for Labour’s next candidate for Mayor of London.

• We view the London Mayor as a sui generis case and we do not wish it to be seen as a precedent for the selection of borough mayoral candidates, where the demographics of individual boroughs means there would be even greater risks of a primary being hijacked by a particular ethnic or faith group with communal organisational structures and an ability to mobilise politically.
• We would want to see the following safeguards:
o Short-listing would be conducted by the NEC or Regional Board, based on interviewing all candidates who had been nominated by a regional affiliate and/or at least 5 London CLPs.
o This would be a closed primary with voting rights only accorded to party members, members of affiliated organisations, existing registered Labour Supporters and people who register as Supporters during the process, who are on the electoral register and who declare they do not support another party and pay a £1 contribution towards the cost of the ballot. This is so that supporters of other political parties cannot vote in our selection, perhaps mischievously voting for a weak candidate.
o Sign-up could be both online and by post, with appropriate levels of declaration of identity.
o The Party would need rigorous processes, including scrutiny by CLPs, to vet and bar applicants to participate if they were known supporters of other political parties; and using Contact.Creator to verify that each person was on the electoral register. A random sample of applicants would need to be contacted to verify they had chosen as individuals to register and no one else was doing this on their behalf.
o The Party would need to retain the power to suspend the process or rule out voters if there was evidence of attempts to stack it e.g. grossly disproportionate levels of supporter registration from particular localities, evidence of people being signed-up without their knowledge.
o A strict code of conduct will be needed to regulate the role that candidates and their campaigns can play in registering people: i.e. they can promote registration and point people to the Party to register, but not actually register people themselves.
o The primary would primarily be conducted by online voting, with provision for postal votes on demand to avoid digital exclusion of voters without personal internet access.
o There should be a spending limit of £100,000 per candidate.
o All candidates will need to be given access to the register of eligible participants, on a rolling updated basis as it will grow in the run-up to the poll.
• In the event that fewer than 100,000 voters register to participate in the primary, the NEC shall have the power to cancel the primary and revert an OMOV ballot of Party members.
• We do not think that primaries are an appropriate way to select parliamentary candidates other than in two categories:
o Vacant Labour –held CLPs that are deemed by the NEC to have membership so low (below 200) that it is unrepresentative of the Labour voters in the CLP, or are in some other way grossly unrepresentative e.g. the membership is disproportionately from one ethnic or faith group when the electorate is not, or disproportionately from one town in a multi-town constituency. There were fewer than 20 Labour-held CLPs with membership under 200 in 2012, one of them is Falkirk.
o CLPs which volunteer to pilot primaries.
o In the latter case the CLP would shortlist candidates from those nominated by branches or affiliates. In the former, the NEC would draw up the shortlist.
o These pilots would be run under the same rules and electorate as the mayoral model set out above and can be set aside if fewer than 1,000 voters register to participate.
o There should be a spending limit of £200 plus 5p per elector who registers to participate in the primary, with a return of expenses provided to the procedures secretary.
o Every person who registers to participate should receive an A4 leaflet or electronic equivalent from each candidate with their ballot.
• Anyone registering to participate in the Party would automatically be considered a “Labour Supporter” as defined in Refounding Labour with regard to voting rights in future leadership elections, and their registration would be data available to CLPs on Contact.Creator.
• We do not think that primaries are an appropriate way to select local government candidates (including borough elected mayors) in any circumstances, given the low likelihood of public interest, the risk of stacking, and disproportionality i.e. positions at this level do not justify such an expensive or organisationally arduous process.

4) Constituency development agreements between affiliated organisations and constituency Labour parties


We do not believe there is a great necessity to alter the current arrangements regarding CLP development agreements with affiliated organisations.


About Labour First

Labour First is a network which exists to ensure that the voices of moderate party members are heard while the party is kept safe from the organised hard left, and those who seek to divert us from the work of making life better for ordinary working people and their families.

We believe in:

• Putting Labour First
Keeping the Labour Party as a party of Government with mainstream and election winning policies.

• The Trade Union Link

The unions are an integral part of our party.

• Strong Local Government

More power for local councillors not unaccountable community groups and quangos. Councillors deserve a strong voice within our party.

• Security for the UK

The UK playing a full role in the EU and NATO and maintaining our special relationship with the USA. We oppose unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Monday, 9 September 2013

‘Lobbying law’ will hit free speech

Letters: ‘Lobbying law’ will hit free speech
Published: 5 September, 2013

• A NEW law being introduced by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats restricting campaigning is profoundly illiberal and needs to be halted before it silences independent voices.

No one disagrees with the fundamental aim of the lobbying bill (Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill) to create a statutory register of lobbyists.

But the bill goes one step further and widens the definition of “election campaigning” by third parties and restricts how much they can spend on it.

This means dozens of charities will be restricted in their free speech because their activities could be caught within the definition of political campaigning for the first time.

This could impact on national campaigns to save local facilities, such as children’s centres, libraries, hospitals and other causes.

People agree with reforming politics, but this seems like an attempt by the government to reform politics to their own advantage, at the expense of independent voices.

Politicians have to make difficult choices, but they should make them in the open and not try to restrict the ability of ordinary people or organise and challenge decisions independently of formal political parties.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Can we debate about traffic calming without Ham&High churnalism?

"Churnalism" is a form of journalism in which pre-packaged material is used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to fill column inches without undertaking further research or checking.

I say this because the reporting of traffic calming and penalty notices is invariably reported in simplistic ways by the Ham&High, regardless of the facts.  The recent proposal to make a borough-wide 20mph zone was dismissed by the Ham&High and the reporting of Grafton Road traffic calming exemplify this point.  

Camden's issuance of penalty notices has actually gone down, not up, in this administration. There has been a 27% decrease in penalties from 2006-10 and now.  Contrary to the accepted wisdom any surpluses have always been ring-fenced for transport projects, e.g. repairing roads etc, not central coffers.  

Like other boroughs Camden has to strike a balance between car users and everyone else - over the past three decades I have lived here the number of cars has trebled and some neighbourhoods have been blighted by 'rat runs.'   

Because Camden is in the middle of London the problem is worse.  

I have seen the council deal with these via a variety of means, outright road closure; physical traffic calming; CCTV; signage and voluntary measures (like a 20mph zone).  Every one of these measures has been opposed at one stage or another - often with intemperate language and the obligatory 'outraged' Celeb - by the Ham&High over the last 10 years, making it near-impossible to hold a sensible and balanced discussion about traffic-calming in NW3. 

Presumably it shifts a couple of papers locally, but the public interest is usually lost somewhere along the line.   

Before calming was put in Grafton Road was notorious rat-run for commuters coming from the north seeking to avoid Kentish Town Road. Traffic surveys undertaken in 2003 showed that traffic volumes had reduced on Grafton Road by up to 82%.  

There is strong local feeling (70%) for 'no change' or retention of the existing scheme with modifications. However, there has now been a 'call-in' to examine bollards and we shall see what the officers response is - I do know that people in Oak Village have had experience of bollards, in that they had to be removed because of vandalism, the bollards were cemented and glued and were therefore hard to maintain. If they are not working then the rat-runs continue.

Rising bollards were removed and replaced with CCTV some years ago.  There have been concerns about continuing high levels of non-compliance (meaning high numbers of fines) and the community asked us to improve the scheme. The community asked us to consult precisely because there were a high number of fines, and we have done so to improve the scheme for local people, not because of income generation. 

The decision has been called-in to investigate whether bollards can be re-instated - we should look at that option but do so in a reasonable 'what works' way and try and avoid the churnalism.

Don't hold you breath though. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

How Camden fares with the Mansion Tax

Top-end estate agents Knight Frank have produced some research showing the impact of a Mansion Tax on areas of the country

The Mansion Tax is a policy proposed by the Liberal Democrats and Labour to capture some of the gains made in the property market at higher values.

Knight Frank's conclusion is that the mansion tax, as currently proposed, will raise "approximately £1.3bn annually, before exemptions", which is less than wonks in Lib Dem and Labour research departments had calculated.

The research shows that Camden would be one of the highest contributors in the country - with over 3900 properties subject to the new levy, if introduced. 

This is a useful number, as it indicates that an area like ours would stand to gain substantially if the tax were introduced.  (A little bit sillier are the figures if the £2m were not indexed).

Knight Frank add: "The tax would be levied overwhelmingly on London and the South East of England, with 86.4% of all £2m+ properties located in those two regions."

Therein lies the rub.  

From a Camden perspective, the problem with the Mansion Tax  is how it would be collected and distributed. Without a real connection with local services (e.g. like Council Tax), money raised would be seen as going straight to the Treasury - before being distributed across the country like other taxes.

If money could reside where it is collected - or even be ring-fenced for new homes - then that would make much more sense.

Camden joins 7 other boroughs in legal challenge over Fire Station closures

Islington Labour leader Catherine West writes in today's Guardian about the legal challenge to Boris Johnson's Fire Station cuts.

Camden, Waltham Forest, Hackney, Greenwich, Islington, Lewisham, Tower Hamlets and Southwark argue that cuts to fire services will affect public safety in our boroughs. 

Locally the proposals close Belsize station in NW3, which Labour has campaigned to save.  

Camden has a large number of residents living in high-rise buildings – four of our five tallest residential buildings are in Belsize ward which sees first appliance response times increase to almost 8 minutes under current plans.  

We have also highlighted a number of other areas of key concern within Camden including our many listed and historical properties, our critical emergency preparedness, our iconic and extremely busy sights such as the British Museum, British Library and Camden Lock market.  

We are also concerned about major mainline stations and our growing demography from major developments such as King's Cross.  

Community safety lead Abdul Hai said in the Guardian:  "All of these points have been brushed over with scant regard for Camden’s communities.  These cuts are dangerous with wide-reaching consequences for the whole of Camden."